In The Republic, Plato plays around with the argument that it is better to be just than unjust. His vessel for showing this is through the forming of an “ideal” city. In this hypothetical city he creates a censored educational system and abolishes the “typical” family structure in hopes that the society would be just. Taking in the context and the time period, Socrates’ ideas were radical but plausible, if executed correctly. Through that execution, though, I am not completely convinced that human emotions would not get in the way.
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The main discussion of the book is on the topic of what is just and unjust and what lifestyle is beneficiary. After countless examinations and definitions, Socrates in book IV is able to convince his comrades that political justice is simple; virtue which in turn is the greatest good(444a-b). He then concludes that if justice can be found in a city, then ideally it can also be found within an individual. He believes that a just person would be one that is not distracted by their indulgences of appetites, which Plato classifies as drink, food, sex and money loving. Socrates believes that a person with a balanced soul will refrain from acts that we consider to be unjust, for example, murder, adultery and treason. But how do you achieve a person with a balanced soul? Socrates believes it comes from upbringing, through education and parenting.
When creating the ideal city Socrates states that “one must do his own work in accordance with his nature” and with the proper education in music and physical training the city as a whole will be just. The emphasis is on proper education, that the information given to its citizen especially to those defending the city must shape a character that is moral and accepts the beliefs that the city has put forth. Socrates believes that with censorship of certain poetry and stories the citizens will approve only of what is familiar and dislike whatever is new, causing the city to be efficient.
The content in which he believes would be
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damaging would be anything that puts the Gods in bad light, for example showing Zeus giving into his sexual desires or showing the Gods fighting amongst each other. As for the guardians (soldiers) they must not know what fear is, they must “Fear slavery more than death(387b) or think that a “death is a terrible thing for someone decent to suffer”(391e). If they are not exposed to the ideas of fear through stories, they will not know what fear is and that will make them triumphant in battle theoretically. Socrates also states that stories that encourage excessive laughter, lies, the love of sex, food and drink will causes the people to believe those activities are enjoyable, which he believes those acts cause the soul to be unjust.
This censorship of poetry and stories, even music, makes it seem like Socrates is getting rid of those activities. He states that for the soul to be just it must be filled with those arts but only a limited area, a positive light, nothing dark or dissuading, because the arts that contain taboo information are harmful to people. If heard, they can excuse themselves for their actions and if they aren’t exposed, they wont find themselves indulging in those emotions. Thus making the individuals stronger.
Plato is arguing that the city is necessary for the life of the citizens, he seems to see that the city is more important than the individual themselves. But the people within the state have to cooperate, and if freedoms are limited it is human nature to seek something that fits there needs. The people should cooperate when it comes to protection and productivity of the city but trying to control what they believe to be there values seems ironically unjust.
What I gathered from the reading is that Plato believes that with a very censored education people will stop radical thinking and fall into line. But Plato himself is thinking these ideas, what will stop one of the craftsman thinking along those same lines. Plato seems to think that without these outer influences emotions can be dulled, but “life without any emotions would be life without meaning”(Jagger), and life without meaning could lead to a large portion of the society to fall into depression.
A persons emotions, even if one does not know a name for those emotions, may cause them to feel or act in a certain way. Socrates society is a controlled environment similar to a scientific experiment. Much like an experiment one must account for unknown variables that could manipulate the outcome. In the controlled environment, basic human behaviors will come out. Such as, seeing a stronger boy in the physically training and be longing to be like that, jealousy. Or the simple attraction between individuals, lust. They may be told not to react to those feelings but instincts push us to.
Lastly, how would he form this hypothetical city? Would he have to gather “just” men and “virtuous” women that share the same beliefs as him and start with a fresh batch of children in a new isolated city.
Because if someone remembers the past, with the art, the family interactions, I’m not quite convinced they would enjoy this situation. If the people believe the city was there for their better good and help them with their chance of survival I could see the city potentially forming, but only under extreme circumstances. For modern times I do not see this hypothetical city working, look at controlled media experiments such as the movie The village or in 1984’s “Big Brother” these prove that “curiosity killed cat” or something inside of us will seek the truth? The variables may bust this scientific experiment. If Plato’s concept of the ideal city was correct, we would not being reading The Republic, we would be living it.See More on Censorship